Water sustainability depends on meaningful cooperation

Ulrik Gernow, executive vice-president and COO of Grundfos, discusses how the group — the first in the water solutions sector to receive full validation of its 2050 net-zero target from the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi) in 2022 — is driving water action forward following the UN 2023 Water Conference, and how the business community can help accelerate water and climate actions.

By Amira Yunos

Ulrik Gernow, executive vice-president and COO of Grundfos

The UN 2023 Water Conference

Grundfos participated in the UN 2023 Water Conference held in New York, 22-24 Mar 2023, the first event of its kind in nearly 50 years. The Water Action Agenda, the key outcome of the conference, reflected the collective resolve to address water challenges through a more coordinated and results-driven approach. “However, the challenge now is to ensure the message is amplified, and key decision-makers in other sectors that rely on water, or impact water management, come on board,” Gernow said. For him, what stood out was the importance of partnerships between governments, businesses, and citizens to tackle the world’s water and climate challenges.

Grundfos worked with International Water Association (IWA) to support the Youth Action for SDG6 Delegation at the conference, which participated in a range of events and green conversations to advocate for a water-wise future. “Youth needs to be at the centre of transforming the future of water to ensure that those with the greatest stake in future water security are at the forefront of important dialogues,” he added.

The conference also highlighted the cross-sectoral nature of water, and its close linkages with energy. According to Gernow, the water-energy nexus needs to be considered as the sector designs holistic long-term solutions and policies that use water in environmentally responsible ways, including adopting more renewable energy resources and energy efficient solutions that are less water-intensive to achieve greater water security.

Localised circularity approach for pump solutions 

Gernow said that although sustainability has gained prominence on the agenda of international organisations, governments and businesses in recent years, there are still barriers holding businesses back in this transformation.

One such barrier is the perceived high costs of adopting energy and water efficient technologies that hinder their uptake. But he recommended businesses to look at the lifecycle cost (LCC) of the equipment. “Take pumps as an example, it is estimated that 85% of the LCC of a pump can be attributed to its energy costs,” he said. “That is why the replacement of a dated, oversized or inefficient pump can lead to huge differences in energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

Grundfos products is said to apply the reduce-reuse-recycle principle at every stage of the water cycle and thus its pump solutions sold in 2022 enabled end-users to reuse over 1.8 billion m³ water per year. “Our circular business ambition prioritises reducing waste, using circular principles thinking when designing products and optimising our take back and recycling schemes,” he said. “Through forging new partnerships with customers over the last year, we increased our take back returns by 69% compared to 2021, with 64,288kg pumps returned under our recycling programme in 2022.”

Further, Grundfos’ ‘Energy Check Advanced’ is also said to use actual pump data, in terms of flow, head and motor power consumption along with pump age and operating hour, giving manufacturers an overview of the lifecycle costs of one or more pumps. This helps facilitate decisions on pump replacement and cutting energy consumption, benefiting clients’ financials and the environment.

When it comes to collaboration between stakeholders to tackle climate change, Gernow said that working with partners who share the same goal but bring in different expertise is important. “Both the water and climate challenges are too profound to tackle alone, and thus require different skills and knowledge from different parties,” he said. “Embed a localised approach, especially with water challenges, as solutions need to take into consideration local contexts. Partners need to think of ways to scale their cooperation to make it more impactful.”

With countries experiencing extreme weather events such as flooding as a consequence of climate change, governments and local authorities are working towards short- to medium-term goals of preventing and adapting to urgent floods, improving drainage capacity, and increasing water management capacity. Solution providers such as Grundfos should bring to the table their expertise and resources to address climate issues, he added.

According to Gernow, a big challenge for local authorities when constructing new pumping stations, floodgates and retention ponds is land acquisition. Such structures all require land space, which can be difficult in densely populated urban areas, especially in built-up areas. One possible solution is a ‘pump gate’ that combines floodgates and axial flow pumps on an existing waterway, relieving flood pressure without consuming additional land.

Indonesia faces these flooding issues. In response, Grundfos worked with Indonesian Ministry of Public Works and Human Settlements, Semarang government and other partners in 2013 to install such a pump gate in Semarang, Indonesia’s fifth biggest city that had suffered from chronic flooding. “Today, people who used to experience flooding in their homes and on the streets of the city are now free from flooding,” he said.

Semarang pumping station

Engaging industry partners

Another challenge faced is that water issues lack visibility among businesses, with water resources often taken for granted. Gernow said that the water, climate and nature crises have continued to be seen as separate issues despite their interconnectedness, with sustainability responses often created in silos. This is exacerbated by the linear approach with water use. In the linear approach, water withdrawn from natural water bodies or harvested from rainwater is used and then disposed, treated or untreated, into waterways that flow into the ocean eventually. He said, “I believe this consumption model of ‘take, make, consume, and waste’ is unsustainable, and has contributed to the current water crises we are facing, as it has led to a strain on our finite water resources and generating waste and causing environmental degradation.”

Recognising these challenges, Grundfos has engaged industry partners to address them. In Singapore, the group signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Singapore Polytechnic in December 2021 to co-develop energy and water efficient smart solutions that aimed at supporting industries in Singapore to be sustainable. The three-year partnership will focus on sustainability education and talent development. “With Grundfos’ expertise and the platform and partners of the polytechnics, solutions are given to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Singapore in their sustainability journey, contributing to the nation’s green goals,” Gernow said.


As businesses continue to identify where energy efficiency could be further improved in their operations, companies need to consider the water-energy nexus and scale up efforts through collaborating with peers, the industry, customers, governments, nonprofit organisations, and the public to achieve greater water security. Gernow added that committing to initiatives and frameworks, such as UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can guide businesses in working together with these aligned stakeholders to address and solve water and climate challenges.